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Deadlines near for shipping Christmas packages
Postal service sends 589 million items a day during holidays
People line up to mail their packages Wednesday at the Green Street post office.

U.S. Postal Service shipping deadlines

For arrival by Christmas

Today: Last day to ship Parcel Post
Monday: Last day for most international shipping for Christmas arrival
Tuesday: Last day to send First-Class Mail
Wednesday: Last day to send Priority Mail
Dec. 22: Last day for most Express Mail

When Doris Small asked her adult daughter what she wanted for Christmas, the daughter requested Small's home-baked assortment of holiday cookies.

Those are the cookies she's been making for family and neighbors for years.

The snag is that Small lives in Gainesville and her daughter lives in Texas, meaning Small has to ship the cookies to get them there by Christmas.

For those trying to send presents by mail over the holidays, the "time for giving" can turn into a time for waiting.

Small, however, shipped the cookies from the Gainesville post office on Wednesday with little wait, rather than fighting the crowds expected to line up for shipping next week.

Today marks the last day to mail items Parcel Post with some sense of assurance it will arrive by Christmas. Parcel Post is the least expensive way to mail items through the U.S. Postal Service; it's supposed to take two to eight days.

That doesn't mean that shipping gifts will be impossible if you miss this deadline. It will just get more expensive.

According to Michael Miles, a spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service in Atlanta, customers can still ship into next week with First-Class Mail and Priority Mail if they're willing to pay more.

"The longer you wait, the more it will cost," Miles said.

Private shipping companies UPS and FedEx have similar deadlines for shipping. According to the FedEx website, ground and home delivery shipping should be in by Friday to arrive in time for the holidays. Both companies also offer two-day and next-day delivery for additional charges.

Customers can even ship on Christmas Eve with the U.S. Postal Service.

"If they wait until the absolute drop-dead last minute, express service is guaranteed overnight on Christmas Day," he said, though some post offices will close early on Christmas Eve.

That's cutting it way too close for Kathy Stover, a Gainesville resident who shipped gifts to a friend in Knoxville, Tenn., on Wednesday.

"Next week it will be way too crazy," she predicted.

Not the procrastinating type, Stover is done with her shipping needs and expects to be done with her holiday gift shopping today.

Shipping over the holidays always spikes for the postal service, Miles said, even with trends toward less shipping.

"It still peaks and it's still the busiest time for us," he said.

On average, Miles said, the postal service ships 551 million items a day. That's everything including post cards, letters and packages. During the period from Thanksgiving to Christmas, that number jumps to 589 million per day.